Spain's pools sit empty as water supplies dwindle

STORY: This is the town of Vacarisses.

It sits in Catalonia - one of the most parched regions in Spain.

And its gained notoriety for this suburban symbol: the swimming pool.

There's one pool for every five residents in this 7,000-person town.

But as water becomes an increasingly scarce resource in drought-hit Spain, can pool ownership here be done in a responsible way?

Many people were drawn to Vacarisses in the 1970s, hoping to live out the suburban dream of homes with large gardens and pools to provide respite during the long, hot summers.

But that lifestyle is under threat as a severe drought forces authorities to reach for increasingly stringent measures to conserve water.

That includes restrictions on filling pools.

Antoni Masana is the mayor of the town.

"The model was created by the Franco regime and the post-Franco regime which, without urban planning laws, allowed there to be neighbourhoods that grew a lot. All these neighbourhoods were legalized and are legalized, but of course they have the house model of a house with swimming pool, garden... and the water consumption is obviously higher than that of a flat."

A new law will bar residents from refilling pools; even with a ferocious summer on the horizon.

Last year's was the hottest on record.

Resident Antonia Leon Garcia's pool - like many others - has been empty for years.

She says the town's people are unfairly stigmatized.

"When you go shopping, in the supermarket or in Terrassa, people say to you, 'Oh, yes, you live where there are 30,000 swimming pools, right? It's a silly stigma that's gone round. But if you are here, you are in the countryside.”

She and others here say the pools are being used as a scapegoat for a larger problem:

Spain’s lack of coherent water policy.

She wants authorities to invest in more desalination and purification plants to supplement aquifers and reservoirs.

An expert we spoke to at the IE Centre for Water and Climate Adaptation in Madrid agreed with her.

While many point fingers at pools, they told Reuters the bulk of Spain's water resources are taken by the agriculture sector - accounting for 70% of usage.

Water management is a hot topic in Spain and a main point of contention in the upcoming regional, municipal and national elections.

Masana says there are still ways to enjoy a backyard pool in a sustainable way, such as keeping the water in it and using thermal covers so the water evaporates less.

Garcia, meanwhile, says she's getting rid of her pool.

"Oh no! No, I'm not going to fill it. I'm going to remove it. Why? Because first, we don't have kids. Second, because now I'm paying for a pool that I don't use, that I won't fill and I've been paying for for seven years and telling the town hall that it's empty and it's always the same thing. It's a matter of finances."